Five Questions for Paul Renner

Incoming Florida House speaker says he’ll focus on pocketbook issues, infrastructure investment. 

Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, closes debate on the House bill overhauling the state’s economic development programs during a special session of the Legislature, June 9, 2017.

Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, closes debate on the House bill overhauling the state’s economic development programs during a special session of the Legislature, June 9, 2017. Florida House of Representatives

Elected officials often are a bit vague about their agendas. Paul Renner, ever the prudent politician, didn’t get into specifics about his upcoming leadership of the Florida House of Representatives during a call with City & State. But he did say his tenure would be marked by a focus on what lawmakers can do to curb the rising cost of living and invest in infrastructure for the future. 

There are clues for where else he wants to go, however. Earlier this year, Renner – a Palm Coast Republican who’s been in office since 2015 – said he supports constitutional carry, or the permitless carrying of firearms. And last week he told the Miami Herald he’s open to further restrictions on abortion, now forbidden after 15 weeks in Florida. (That law was found unconstitutional but is still in effect while under appeal.) The retired Navy commander and veteran of two Gulf wars has also said he wants “to hear from my colleagues in the House and my colleagues in the Senate before we take any steps.” 

Renner officially will take the reins in a post-election “organization session” set for Nov. 22. After that, Renner and incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo have to deal with a second special legislative session this year to try to stabilize the state’s home insurance market. That’s as lawmakers begin meeting in committees in the run-up to the 2023 regular session that kicks off March 7. Until then, we have five questions for Paul Renner. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

As far as a Renner speakership goes, what specific programs or projects will you champion in your two years?

We have a lot of new members who are going to be giving their input into what's in that agenda. But what I can say is that we need to address what is on everybody's mind, which is the cost of living. And I think in that regard, we will tackle it, whether it's tax relief or tackling the rising cost of insurance premiums or what Sen. Passidomo has been leading on with affordable housing … problems people have with their basic expenses. And I think that's important for us to work on based upon the climate that we're in, it's an inflationary climate. 

So I would mention that first and foremost, we will certainly continue down the road of prioritizing education. We've had a lot of success both at the K-12 and higher education level, but there's always more to be done and improvements to be made. You saw some of the learning losses that happened throughout the country as a result of COVID, while at the same time you saw Florida move up the ranks and be well positioned in the top five in math and reading. But we have farther to go, and I'm not satisfied that our kids are reading on grade level as they should. That's a nationwide problem, but something we need to give greater focus on in the coming years. 

What can we do to regain what was lost and get people back on track? I don't have a specific solution for you today, but it is something that is on my mind. It's something that needs to be looked at carefully to see how we erase those learning losses and get people back on track through additional measures that we might take.

You mentioned insurance. Lawmakers will again meet in special session to address property-tax relief for people affected by Hurricane Ian, with the possibility of again addressing property-insurance issues. What’s on the agenda?

I don't want to get ahead of myself or my colleagues, but I can tell you …. you'll see a pretty robust special session on property insurance that seeks to do two things. One is to provide stability and capacity in the market, which is frankly at risk at this point. We don't want that to happen where we have people who can only get Citizens (home insurance) policies. We've seen the dramatic rise in Citizens (policies). So addressing the stability of the market and sufficient capacity is Job 1 for the special session. But really 1(B), if you will, is to make sure we begin the process of taking steps that will bring down the cost of insurance.

And that will not, I want to emphasize, happen overnight. If we took the magic wand and everything we didn't get done during the prior special session got done that people might agree as optimal to reform our market to make it healthy, it still would not overnight bring down the cost of insurance premiums. However, once we do rebuild that capacity, once we do have those additional reforms in place, then I'm hopeful that over time we'll see those rates decline, and hopefully at some point actually see some reversal of the increases so people can get a break on their insurance premiums.

You and Sen. Passidomo will preside over supermajorities. How does that change how you run the chamber?

I don't think for me it changes anything at all in terms of my leadership approach or the types of policy reforms and challenges that I want to see us tackle, meaning that we were hoping and intending to do that anyway. And so while we have more members, I don't see that as fundamentally changing the way we approach governance. We've got a job to do, the state has challenges, people expect us to deliver solutions on those challenges and we're going to do it. But we would've done that with 78 members as well as with what looks to be 85.

As everybody that's served with me knows, and the Democrats that I have shared time and service with know, I really enjoy a good debate and believe that it adds value to the process. And so people's voices have been heard, will continue to be heard. Nothing in that regard is going to change at all. Obviously having a two-thirds majority … allows us procedurally to move things along, overcome any kind of obstruction that may be inappropriate. But I don't anticipate that. I don't think for that reason that we're gonna need to "use" that supermajority, if you will. And you'll see two years that would look a lot like two years we had less than that supermajority. … It certainly does mean that we have the ability to do bold policy reforms, but my intent was to do that anyway. We do have structured questions and debate, and we (will) continue having that. That's not going change in the upcoming rules. We're certainly not going to be punitive because we have a supermajority. 

Every new speaker means an updated version of the House Rules, which guide the internal operations of the chamber. Can you tell us about any significant changes?

None that I can share now, but I think they're all good. I hope to try to use our time efficiently for members since we're a part-time legislature. Members that have commitments back home and need to get out (should) have some expectation that they can get out at a time certain, and we'll try to do things as efficiently as we have, but I think we're inheriting some really good rules and in a really well-run process. My main concern is to continue that and provide the type of environment where ideas are fully vetted, where all voices can be heard. And then we're gonna move forward with big, bold reforms with a governor that I share quite a lot philosophically in common with, and I know our other members do as well, in the House and Senate. And I think it'll be very productive and good for the people of Florida that we represent.

As to the reforms you just mentioned, will you be discussing those in your organization speech and can you tease at least one of them now?

… I've mentioned cost of living issues. I would say that Sen. Passidomo and I both share a desire to make sure we're looking to the future. While we're term limited, we are looking ahead to what the state will look like 20 years from now and ensuring that when it comes to our infrastructure, things like water supply or water quality or transportation or land conservation or resiliency, that we're ahead – not behind – in planning for the future. And that means assessing and making priorities so that we're not falling behind the chase, not chasing the shiny object of the moment and forgetting about the future of our neighbors and our children and making sure that Florida has a really, really strong future ahead of it. So I would say an area of focus is to truly dig down and get everybody on the same page for a common vision to take care of our future infrastructure.